Emotional Pictures Dot-Probe Test

The emotional pictures dot-probe task is a spatially oriented motivated attention task that is administered via computer to capture attentional bias toward emotional cues. The dot probe task described here was developed using primarily slides taken from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS) and was developed specifically for assessing potential emotional deficits in children and adolescents with callous-unemotional traits. The slides used in the task were carefully selected to tap distressing content (e.g., crying child), positive emotional content (e.g., puppies), and neutral emotional content (e.g., fork) and using slides which had been validated and proven safe in previous studies with children and adolescents. Because the number of neutral and distressing images was not sufficient for dividing the slides into neutral, distress, and positive categories, additional slides (distress n = 19; neutral n = 42) were added that directly matched the IAPS slide content. For example, additional slides of crying children were added to the existing IAPS slides of crying children.

The dot probe task consists of one block of practice stimuli (16 picture pairs) followed by four test blocks of picture pairs, each containing 24 picture pairs. Each picture pair presentation consists of three sequential and non-overlapping components: (1) a 500 millisecond fixation cross appearing in the center of the screen, (2) a 250  (for older children and adolescents) or 500 millisecond (for younger children) simultaneous presentation of two picture stimuli that are centered and located immediately above and below the location of the fixation cross, and (3) an asterisk (i.e., dot probe) appearing in either the top or bottom picture location immediately after the offset of the picture. The objective of the task is to select a key on the keyboard that corresponds to the location on the screen (up or down) where the dot-probe appears, as quickly as possible. The time between when the probe appears and when the youth presses the corresponding key to its location is recorded in milliseconds and used for the calculation of facilitation indices.

Scores from the Task

The primary score from the task is an attentional facilitation index which is calculated separately for the slides of different emotional valence. For the distress facilitation index, it is calculated using the following formula: Facilitation = 1/2 x [(Neutral Only/Probe Up – Distress Up/Probe Up) + (Neutral Only/Probe Down – Distress Down/Probe Down)]. Thus, this index is calculated by subtracting the participant’s average response time to probes replacing distress stimuli from their average response time to probes replacing neutral stimuli in the various neutral-neutral picture pairings. This formula controls for potential location effects (participant’s tendency to attend to either the top or bottom location of the screen) by summing latencies for top and bottom picture locations and taking their average. The facilitation index for positive emotion slides is calculated in the same way.  If the spatial location of the probe corresponds to the same spatial location where the participant’s attention is allocated then their response to the probes’ location will be faster.  If no key is pressed within 5000 milliseconds, the response is recorded as incorrect. Incorrect responses are not included in the calculation of facilitation indices as they reflect that the participant was not paying attention to a specific stimulus pair.

Publications Using the Task

Kimonis, E.R., Frick, P.J., Cauffman, E., Goldweber, A., & Skeem, J.  (2012). Primary and secondary variants of juvenile psychopathy differ in emotional processing. Development and Psychopathology, 24, 1091-1103.

Kimonis, E.R., Frick, P.J., Fazekas, H., & Loney, B.R. (2006). Psychopathy, aggression, and the processing of emotional stimuli in non-referred boys and girls Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 24, 21-37.

Kimonis, E.R., Frick, P.J., Munoz, L.C. & Aucoin, K.J. (2008). Callous-unemotional traits and the emotional processing of distress cues in detained boys: Testing the moderating role of aggression, exposure to community violence, and histories of abuse.  Development and Psychopathology, 20, 569-589.

Kimonis, E.R., Frick, P.J., Munoz, L.C. & Aucoin, K.J. (2007). Can a laboratory measure of emotional processing enhance the statistical prediction of aggression and delinquency in detained adolescents with callous-unemotional traits?  Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35, 773-785.

Kimonis, E.R., Frick, P.J., Skeem, J., Marsee, M.A., Cruise, K., Munoz, L.C. Aucoin, K.J. & Morris, A.S.  (2008). Assessing callous-unemotional traits in adolescent offenders: Validation of the Inventory of Callous-Unemotional Traits.  International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, 31, 241-251.